Eight decades and counting: Legacy of environmental stewardship at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant

By Matthew Wheaton, Joint Munitions Command, Public and Congressional AffairsNovember 14, 2023

Eight decades and counting: Legacy of environmental stewardship at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A pair of otters rest on a log at Radford Army Ammunition Plant in southwest Virginia. (Dr. Karen Powers, Radford University) (Photo Credit: Dr. Karen Powers, Radford University) VIEW ORIGINAL
Eight decades and counting: Legacy of environmental stewardship at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A pond located at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, in southwest Virginia. (Photo Credit: Len Diioia, Radford Army Ammunition Plant) VIEW ORIGINAL

For over eight decades, the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, in southwest Virginia, has stood as a steadfast community partner in the New River Valley. This enduring commitment extends to the region's people, the environment, and the responsible management of natural resources.

RFAAP consists of two separate facilities. The main manufacturing plant is located between the city of Radford and the town of Blacksburg and consists of 4,080 acres. The New River Storage Unit is located 12 miles from the main plant near the town of Dublin and consists of 2,821 acres. The main plant is divided by the New River into a northwestern portion (in Pulaski County) and southeastern portion (in Montgomery County). The Claytor Lake Dam,10 miles south of the main plant, governs the rise and fall of the New River along the boundaries of RFAAP.

“Through a multifaceted approach, RFAAP exemplifies the Army's dedication to environmental stewardship,” said Lt. Col. Adrien G. Humphreys, RFAAP’s commander. “Our natural resource staff shoulders the responsibility of preserving native species, conducting vital animal surveys for research initiatives, and crafting comprehensive management plans.”

RFAAP's collaboration with educational institutions and community organizations has yielded valuable insights and real-world experiences. Partnerships with West Virginia University, Drexel University, Virginia Tech, and Radford University have encompassed studies on everything from ginseng to southern pine beetle infestations.

“These initiatives provide students with hands-on learning opportunities while furnishing the installation with essential data for its natural resource management plan,” said Len Diioia Jr., an environmental scientist at RFAAP. “These endeavors not only serve as a platform for students to actively engage in learning but also play a crucial role in advancing the installation's sustainable practices and environmental stewardship.”

There are 341 vegetation species at RFAAP and approximately 10% are invasive. Species such as ailanthus, autumn olive, Japanese barberry and pawlonia (hardwood trees) are at the top of the list for control. Representatives from Virginia Tech have injected a few ailanthuses within a stand with a fungus that only feeds on them. The fungus spreads through the root system killing all adjoining ailanthus trees.

RFAAP is home to a variety of species — monarch butterfly, Henslow’s sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, and regal fritillary butterfly — that are currently facing threats. The Endangered Species Act mandates the safeguarding of them and the places they call home. Any undertakings or initiatives that might potentially affect species listed under federal protection are carefully assessed to identify ways to minimize, alleviate, or offset any adverse effects on these animals.

Wildlife management at RFAAP primarily concentrates on habitat management, except for white-tailed deer. Since 1985, RFAAP has collaborated with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to organize a lottery deer hunt at the New River Unit, which is open to the public. Harvest objectives are established based on trend data from spotlight surveys, historical harvesting records, natural mortality statistics, and assessments of browse damage to both preferred and non-preferred plant species.

RFAAP's dedication to Veterans and the community is evident through its enduring partnership with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. For over a decade, the plant has hosted Wounded Warrior hunts, providing local and regional veterans with opportunities to hunt and fish on its premises. There are two ponds at the New River Unit, and the larger is approximately two acres.

RFAAP leases over 400 acres for cattle grazing and hay production at the New River Unit. There are six different leases at the facility. Four are for hay production with acreages of 127, 96, 50 and 30, and two leases are for grazing with acreages of 55 and 29. Local farmers benefit from this program, which utilizes installation property, while ensuring responsible land management to prevent adverse environmental impacts.

“With a steadfast focus on the future, RFAAP will continue to serve as a shining example of environmental guardianship for the generations yet to come,” Humphreys said. “We will help ensure that those in the New River Valley thrive in harmony with our natural surroundings.”